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Purdue's 100-Year Forest Survey

In this summer 2007 photo, Purdue Extension wildlife expert Brian MacGowan, left, and Zack Walker of the Indiana State Department of Natural Resources use a clear plastic tube to safely handle and check a female timber rattlesnake to see if she is bearing eggs. As part of the century-long Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, MacGowan tracks these endangered animals using implanted radio transmitters to examine the effect of timber harvest on their populations. Photo courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources photo/John Maxwell

A century-long study seeks to see the forest for more than just the trees. A group of researchers led by Purdue University has begun to sample data for a planned 100-year study designed to develop better forest management methods and measure how such practices affect resident plant and animal species, such as this female timber rattlesnake.

“Our main goal is to find out how to most effectively regenerate oak and hickory forests, while examining the impact these treatments have on the whole ecosystem,” said Cortney Mycroft, project manager for the study, called the “Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment.”

Oak trees have begun to be replaced by maples in Indiana and elsewhere over the past several decades. Regeneration is important because oaks and hickories not only produce highly-valued wood products, but their edible acorns and hickories also support larger wildlife populations, Mycroft said.

Ultimately the researchers plan to develop a decision support tool that will help people like forest managers and landowners predict the likely effects of specific management decisions.

“We want to give people the ability to understand - at the outset - what the different implications are for a particular forest management strategy,” said Purdue principal investigator Rob Swihart.

The experiment will examine the effect of different management methods on endangered species like timber rattlesnakes, Cerulean warblers and Indiana bats, said Purdue Extension wildlife expert Brian MacGowan. Researchers also will study songbirds like the worm-eating warbler, small mammals like voles, woodland salamanders, box turtles, moths and beetles.

Another important goal of the study is to involve visitors and nearby landowners in the process by getting their input.

“As stewards of Indiana’s second-largest forested land base, the Division of Forestry thought the time was right to put in place a truly unique research project,” said John Seifert, head of forestry for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, a primary collaborator and funder of the project. “The scientific knowledge that will be gained from this research will have long-term impacts on both public and private forest management.”

More information is available online at

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June 25, 2019, 7:55 pm PDT

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